HL Deb 07 March 1934 vol 91 cc67-76

LORD LAMINGTON moved to resolve, That it is desirable that the Motion for the adoption of the twenty-four-hour system, agreed to by this House on 7th December, 1933, should now be put into operation. The noble Lord said: My Lords, for some years I have brought forward this question about the twenty-four-hour system, and I have always had the vigorous support of Lord Newton. I regret that he is now away on a long journey abroad, but before he left he wrote to me hoping that I would persevere in getting this reform (as I call it) carried. It is very surprising, in view of the fact that this House has given its decision in favour of the adoption of the twenty-four-hour system, that the Government should have absolutely ignored our decision. I do not think that they have taken a single step to put it into force.

Seeing this, I thought the only thing was to try in another place, and I got two or three Members there to take an interest in the matter. Among them was Sir Arnold Wilson, who on Monday asked a Question with reference to it and received a reply which I propose to read so that your Lordships shall know the nature of it. The reply given by the Postmaster-General was: I understand that the British Broadcasting Corporation intend at at early date to adopt the twenty-four-hour system of expressing time for general use and on an experimental basis. This will afford an opportunity for testing the attitude of public opinion, and I propose therefore to await the result of the experiment before coming to a decision. Yesterday another Question was put by Mr. Whiteside, the Member for South Leeds, and the Home Secretary answered in terms fairly similar to those which I have just read out; but the Home Secretary, on being also asked whether the Post Office had adopted the system, said: "Certainly not." Of course the Post Office has adopted the system with regard to cablegrams; all cablegrams sent or received are timed on the twenty-four-hour basis, so that the Home Secretary has been badly advised.

This House has twice given its decision in favour of this system. On one occasion two years ago—by a misconception, as I think the noble Viscount on the Woolsack will agree—it was treated as having decided otherwise; but at any rate last December a Motion similar to that was carried by this House. That being the case, I am not going to weary your Lord ships by going through the whole of what I call the merits of this reform. In view of the reply given in another place your Lordships may wonder why I should say anything at all. I do it because I think the action proposed in reference to the British Broadcasting Corporation is dilatory, and wantonly dilatory. Yesterday the Home Secretary again mentioned that he wanted to test whether there was a popular demand for this reform. Having regard to the expression of opinion of this House, whose composition I think is generally allowed to be extraordinarily representative—all industries, professions, Government Departments, and every other sort of activity in life being represented in this House—it is a remarkable thing that it should be absolutely disregarded and ignored. That I was justified, having regard to the attitude of the Government to your Lordships' House, in asking Members in another place to take up the matter, is shown by the fact that at once the walls of Jericho trembled, and the two Departments concerned made a very slight concession. I may not be accurate in saying that the Post Office have been the principal objectors to the scheme; I think it is the Home Office. What in the world the Home Office have to do with it I do not know; however, that is the fact: they have been the real opponents of the proposal. I should like to make this one further point, that not a single valid objection of any sort has ever been raised to this proposal except that of my noble friend on my right (Lord Banbury of Southam) who said that under the twenty-four-hour system he would not know what time to go out to dinner, or something like that.

Another point Trade by the Government's spokesmen has been that there is no public demand for the change. Well, there was no public demand for summer time. That is a feeble excuse. On previous occasions spokesmen for the Government have expressed their personal approval of the proposal, but they seemed to have to submit to some official of the Home Office or the Post Office who says there is no public demand. It is very probable that Ministers themselves would like to see the change made, but again they are overawed by some superior person in one of these two offices. I should have thought the mere fact that your Lordships' Louse had expressed approval constituted a demand for it. In addition to that, Lord Stonehaven's Committee in 1919 approved the change. The only difference in that case was that they wanted the railways to give the lead whereas other people say that the Government ought to give the lead. It is very like a modern version of the dispute between the famous Earl of Chatham and Sir Richard Strachan. Neither side would make an advance.

I should like very briefly to state what outside opinion there is in favour of the change. In the first place the Navy, Army and Air Services have the system in use. I wrote to the Astronomer Royal, and he replied that, having expressed his opinion already, he did not think it necessary to take any further action. Among those supporting the proposal are the President of the Royal Society, the President of the Royal Astronomical Society, the President of the British Astronomical Association and also Mr. Frank Pick, a great authority on the Underground railway system of London. Support is also given by a number of publications, including Nature, Modern Transport, and the Electrician and, to my surprise, I received a letter—it was quite unsolicited by me—from the Editor of the Nautical Magazine, a very well got-up journal. In that letter the Editor of the Nautical Magazine referred to the interest I have taken in this matter and went on to say: I have written to every member of the British Nautical Instrument Trade Association and have had several replies, all in approval of the change. What I was endeavouring to find out was, would it be policy to give the tides in Brown's Nautical Almanac in the twenty-four-hour system, or a.m. and p.m. as at present—While the nautical trade and navigators would welcome the twenty-four-hour system, until it is adopted on shore it might not be policy to give the tides in the twenty-four-hour system. I intend each second month to have an article furthering the subject of the twenty-four-hour clock. The Nautical Magazine is entirely at your disposal if you wish your views brought before officers and shipowners of the world's mercantile marine. The Nautical Magazine is read and referred to by those connected with shipping in all maritime countries as well as Britain. I call that very powerful support.

Then, in Tire Times yesterday there was a letter from Mr. Dennis Handover, the traffic manager of Imperial Airways, advocating the change. The British Chamber of Commerce have sent me a copy of a letter which they addressed to the Government strongly supporting the change. The Meteorological Office uses the twenty-four-hour system, and the Royal Geographical Society now ask their correspondents and anyone who is sent abroad under their auspices to keep their diaries and records on that system. I asked my noble friend Viscount Bridgeman what was the attitude of the British Broadcasting Corporation and he very kindly wrote to me and said: The British Broadcasting Corporation are favourably disposed towards a twentyfour-hour system. Now they are to be the testing authority as regards public interest in the matter. What they are going to do I have not the remotest idea, or how they are going to carry out this test. I should have thought it absolutely unnecessary. People from every quarter—land, sea and air—all ask for a change, but the Government apparently are content to ignore these representations. As my noble friend Lord Newton has said, the only way to convince them apparently would be to get an excited mob with banners marching in procession up and down Whitehall to tell the Home Office what to do. There is really plenty of public support for making the alteration.

I was talking recently to a man who is not a member of the Government but who is connected with the Government, and his objection was that it would be such an upset of the habits and customs of the people of the country. I suppose that 90 per cent. of the public would be perfectly untouched by the change. It would make no difference to their lives. If they found the time stamped on their letters was 17.30 they would have to deduct 12, and that might take them some time, but otherwise they would see no change. As regards railways I think there would be a very great advantage in making the change, and my noble friend behind me (Viscount Knutsford) ought to get the railways to introduce the system at once. It would make matters much easier when one was planning a journey to the North of England or Scotland. I hope that he will try to induce his co-directors to take steps to have the system put into force very soon. In India even they have the twenty-four-hour system. Surely if the people of India can live under that system people here would not be very much upset by it. There is one other section of people who raise objections. I refer to the ladies who say:" Oh, no, what about five o'clock tea?" Well, it would have to be seventeen o'clock. Really it would not affect them in the slightest. Then another member of the Government made the objection that all the dials of clocks and watches would have to be altered, and my noble friend on my right (Lord Banbury of Southam) said that if I would give him a watch with the twenty-four hours on it he would support me. I would gladly give him a watch if he finds it necessary.


Mine is not a very good one. Perhaps yours would be better.


I am sure my noble friend will not want it. The change will not really affect him. He can have his dinner at the usual time and it will be cooked all right. I think it is an absolutely unnecessary, dilatory move on the part of the Government to say that they are going to wait for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Suppose the British Broadcasting Corporation—I think it quite improbable—report adversely; does that mean that the Government would then drop the matter and not carry out the proposal? I think if they did they would find themselves very much abused. Of course the British Broadcasting Corporation of all people would agree to it. If they approve, why this long delay? If the Government are not really honest in their proposal, it means that they want to shelve it. If they are honest, and want. to see whether the country approves, then do not let us have this long delay.

Let the railways get to work and prepare their summer time tables as soon as possible, particularly with all these foreigners coming over from abroad, and, as the Chairman of the London Chamber of Commerce has pointed out, foreigners are very much confused when they try to work out our system of a.m. and p.m. I really think these Government offices might realise that the world is contracting as regards modern intercourse, that modern inventions are going on so that the bonds of intercourse, visible and invisible, are making the world much smaller as regards all human activities. Therefore I do hope that the Government will accept this Motion, and if they do I would like to amend it further, so that this change shall be carried out as early as possible, and that we shall not have this delay in changing to a system which is advocated so strongly in every class of life.

Moved to resolve, That it is desirable that the motion for the adoption of the twenty-four-hour system, agreed to by this House on 7th December, 1933, should now be put into operation.—(Lord Lamington.)


My Lords, the noble Lord who has moved this Motion, not for the first time, has placed me, as representative of the Home Office, in a somewhat difficult position, as indeed he has done on previous occasions. I feel that the noble Lord has no doubt whatsoever as to the nature of my reply, for your Lordships have seen, and indeed the noble Lord has quoted, the answers that both the Postmaster-General and Home Secretary gave on the 5th and 6th of this month. I am surprised that the noble Lord who has moved this Motion believes that the action which has been adopted, or is about to be adopted, for an indefinite period, as an experiment by the British Broadcasting Corporation, is, as described by him, "wantonly dilatory."

Although we have of recent months, perhaps through the persistency and activity of the noble Lord, Lord Lamington, and his noble friend Lord Newton, had representations from authoritative persons for the adoption of the twenty-four-hour system, it is believed by the Department which I represent that there is no very strong general demand for the change, and that it would be wrong to impose upon the public a system of notation which might confuse rather than assist the general public. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Lamington, has heard that, not once but several times during the course of the last five years. It would appear that by the British Broadcasting Corporation adopting the twenty-four-hour system for a period, extending it not only to their internal work but also to their external contacts by using it in their correspondence and over the microphone, and in the journals issued by the corporation, it will be proved, one way or mother, whether the general public support this system or whether they are in direct opposition to it.

The noble Lord asked me a direct question, whether in the event of the British Broadcasting Corporation receiving a strong measure of apposition to their experiment the Government would ignore the representations that have been made from time to time by Lord Lamington and Lord Newton. My Lords, I suppose that the Government would only be carrying out their functions as the Government of the country by taking action according to the representations made, and if there was very strong opposition to any change in our system of the clock, then I say with confidence that the Government would not adopt the scheme, because, as was said this day three months ago, when a similar Motion to that which the noble Lord has now moved was discussed, the British public are conservative and do not like change unless it is imperatively necessary.

The noble Lord has quoted instances, to-day, such as India, where the twenty-four-hour system has been adopted, but I would point out that in Australia, New Zealand, Canada. and Japan, and in the United States of America, the twenty-four-hour system has not been adopted. I would also point out that the distances of travel in this country are not sufficiently great to warrant. a twenty-four-hour system, as they may be on the Continent. You can journey from London to Edinburgh in eight or nine hours, and in an equivalent time from London to Penzance. On the other hand, travel on the Continent necessitates going from one twenty-four-hour period into another. The noble Lord has referred to the fact that the railways and the Post Office employ to some extent the twenty-four-hour system. But I do not think it is to an extent which affects the convenience or inconvenience of the great majority of the people of this country.

It is true that this House has, on two occasions, given assent to the proposals put forward by the noble Lord, but. for my part—I have had experience in a Yeomanry Regiment and in the Army the twenty-four-hour system is adopted—I think that persons who have not had the opportunity of a lengthy military training, and who are typical of the man-in the street, continually get confused through the difference from the ordinary timing to which they have been accustomed. The noble Lord referred to the confusion that might arise amongst the female population of the country, which I understand is larger than that of the male, and I think it is quite possible that one would find, particularly in country districts, that there would be utter confusion, in regard both to travelling and to the Post Office.

The noble Lord will have heard on previous occasions that if the Post Office is to adopt the new system of notation it would first like a lead from the public. It has been said previously that such a change would not entail any considerable expense, but I think that, your Lordships' House, and indeed the general public, will be better able to judge whether the comparatively small expense that would be entailed is warranted after the British Broadcasting Corporation have made their experiment. This will not be the first experiment made by the British Broadcasting Corporation, and it would appear that it is a very good agency to determine the measure of support or opposition that may come from the public at large. Perhaps I may be allowed to say that it is largely due to the persistency and persuasion of the noble Lords, Lord Lamington and Lord Newton, that this experiment of the British Broadcasting Corporation is taking place. I believe that if the noble Lord would be so good as to delay the matter again for a few months, then both he and your Lordships will be better able to judge whether the proposed change has the support that he believes it to have.


My Lords, I am still not convinced by the Government reply. it is certain that the great mass of the people would be absolutely unaffected by the change and that those who would be affected are practically unanimous in wanting it. When it is made all that the Post Office will have to do is to take twelve from whatever number is in question. For a certain period you might have both systems on the printed paper just to show the people. I do think it is a pity that there should be this delay. It would take the railway companies some time to issue new time tables, and therefore I thought it was important for the sake of the summer traffic to get the change made as quickly as possible. The noble Earl spoke of a delay of a few months. Could he give me something less vague?


There is no fixed period for the experiment.


Could you define exactly what will be done by the British Broadcasting Corporation in this experiment


The system would be used both in internal work and external work. That means that the twenty-four-hour system would be adopted in the announcements at the microphone, it would be used in the programmes in the journals published by the Corporation, and it would be indicated on the correspondence of the Corporation.


I am afraid I am not satisfied. I think prompt action should be taken, and I must press my Motion.


My Lords, I was for twenty years a director of the Great Northern Railway Company and for six years I was Chairman. During that time I was never asked by anybody to alter the system of time tables on the railway because it would be more convenient to the public. No one ever suggested it. Of course, if it were done it would mean the alteration of the clocks and the alteration of all the time tables. It would mean great confusion, and all for no reason whatever so far as I can see. The only argument I have ever heard advanced is that sometimes people confuse 12 a.m. with 12 p.m. They may perhaps have dined not wisely but too well, but that is no reason why we should go to the trouble and expense of altering the method to which we have all become accustomed. I am always in favour of a change if it is a good change, but not if it is a bad change and if it is going to cost money. I am sorry that the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has left the House, because not very long ago I found to my great astonishment that the I noble Marquess was in favour of economy, and I remember telling him that now that I had such an eminent leader we might perhaps get some little economies. I have not noticed them in the interval. In spite of the magnificent offer of my noble friend to give me a new watch. I shall resist that form of bribe, and shall strenuously oppose any alteration of the present system.


My Lords, I venture to suggest that this Motion would be intensely unpopular in the country districts. I only rise to say that in my part of the country there are very many of the older people who are firmly convinced—and who knows whether they are right?—that the drought of last year and the floods of previous years are entirely due to the imposition of summer time. If that was the result of summer time I shudder to think what the result of this change in the clock would be.

On Question, Motion negatived.